I have just been reading a blog by a fellow Wycliffe student here. He argues that the Catholic Church has no right to oppose the SORs going through Parliament at present. The reason is that they are willing (in a world which is far from ideal) to allow 'stable' non-married couples to adopt children. The church obviously feels this is better than for the child not to be adopted at all. The main point of the argument is, 'not to let the impossible best be the enemy of the relatively good'.
This debate highlights one of the classic difficulties within ethics, especially Christian ethics, of the balance between idealism and pragmatism. The theological term is 'inaugurated eschatology' – we live in the light and power of the kingdom of God, which at the same time has not yet fully come. We find ourselves living in two worlds, this age and the age to come. The difficulty, as evidenced by this example, is knowing when to stick to the 'ideals' of the age to come, and when to compromise with the current age.
With this particular issue, where should the boundary be? Should the Church stick to its ideals, and put a blanket ban on adoptions by all 'sinners', including non-married couples? Surely not. Should the Church give in to pragmatism and allow anyone in a 'stable' relationship to adopt? I don't think so. Christian ethics is never going to be that simple, because of the tension between this age and the age to come.
And so, I would like to support the Catholic Church's position on this. My next comments have the potential to be controversial, and I don't mean to offend anyone. These are simply some thoughts I have on the subject.
I think that in this issue the pragmatism comes in recognising what constitutes 'marriage'. At its most basic level I would say it is a public commitment to share your whole life with one other person, of the opposite gender. Some would use the word 'covenant' to describe it. Most of the time this is marked by a public wedding, and, if done in church, public prayers and promises one to another.
Is there really a major difference in kind between this and a 'common-law' couple, especially one making the public statement of living together and wanting to raise a child? (The Church is (hopefully) going to rule out couples who have a history of serial relationships, or who have no real intention of staying together long-term.) Is there a major difference between a couple committed to a long-term relationship, and a couple who are officially married?
If not, the next question is, are there any major differences between a committed heterosexual and a committed homosexual couple? I would suggest that perhaps there are. All the major churches (and religions, as far as I know) hold that 'marriage' is between a man and a woman, and that it is the 'ideal' situation in which to bring up a child. Perhaps, then, the 'pragmatic' compromise could be over what constitutes 'marriage', so that committed heterosexual couples are, to all intents and purposes 'married', but the 'ideal' of children being brought up by a man and a woman should not be compromised.
What I am not saying is that homosexual couples are more sinful, or evil, than heterosexual couples. What I am tentatively saying is that perhaps there is something important about the nature of a family that we should not compromise on.
I am willing to be corrected on any aspect of this argument, and please forgive me if I have written in an offensive way. This post is meant to reflect some of the long wrestling I have done myself over these issues.